Anna and Simeon

by John Beeson

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, may God give us eyes to see the beauty of the Christmas story in a fresh way. Every figure we meet at Jesus’ birth points to someone who will be present at Jesus’ death.

Today, we consider Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus at his circumcision and dedication at the temple. Luke shares of their encounter of the infant-Messiah in Luke 2:

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. [Luke 2:22-38]

Simeon and Anna, faithful Jews, waited on the Lord and hoped in his faithfulness to his promises. And when God fulfilled his promises in the Christ-child, God gave them eyes to see, and they held the child and celebrated the goodness of God’s fulfillment.

This child had done nothing. There were no miracles that announced that he was Messiah, there were no signs that showed Simeon and Anna the long-awaited Messiah was the child of these peasants. And yet they knew this was the Messiah, despite a lack of evidence (he was only a baby!), despite everything they were taught to expect. They knew. And they worshiped.

Nicodemus was also a faithful follower of the true God. He devoted himself to God and his Word, but struggled to understand who Jesus was when he met him. Like Simeon and Anna, Nicodemus spent much time at the temple. Like Simeon and Anna, he sought God in earnest prayer. But, unlike Simeon and Anna, he couldn’t comprehend who this man was. He had to get answers, and so he slunk off at night to visit Jesus secretly. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”[i] He knew Jesus was a rabbi. But could he be Messiah? Could he be more than that? Jesus told Nicodemus, one of the most influential Jewish leaders that he (of all people!) had to be born again. “How can these things be?” the confused Nicodemus responded. Jesus shares that salvation would come when he is lifted up.

We don’t know when Nicodemus’s spiritual eyes were opened, but we know that by the time that Jesus was lifted up on the cross, Nicodemus believed. And, now, transformed, he worshiped publicly, just as Anna and Simeon had.

Just as Anna is at Simeon’s side, Nicodemus has a fellow spiritual traveler at his side, his friend Joseph of Arimathea. And just as Anna and Simeon, devout Jews, held Jesus at his birth, so Nicodemus and Joseph hold Jesus at his death. We read:

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. [John 19:38-42]

The act of preparing a body for burial is an intimate act. As we read this description, we see the costly and loving care Nicodemus and Joseph bestow on Jesus. Whereas Jesus’ apostles had fled out of fear when Jesus was arrested, these two men step out of the shadows. They publicly claim the humiliated Messiah: the defeated enemy of Romans and Jews alike. In doing so, they put themselves in grave danger. Nicodemus and Joseph give up an expensive tomb, they pay for the costly ingredients of the embalming mixture, and they tenderly wrap the mangled corpse of this man and lay him to rest.

Joseph and Nicodemus knew this was the Messiah. Despite the risk, despite the lack of evidence (he was dead!), despite the fact that he did not live or die as they expected. They knew. And they worshiped.

May we have eyes to see Jesus at Christmas as Simeon and Anna did. And may we see Jesus at Good Friday as Nicodemus and Joseph did. May our Christmas worship go up this day. Merry Christmas.

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